The San Diego Chargers prepare for their most important game of the season Sunday when they travel to Denver to take on their division rivals, the Broncos. It’s technically not a must-win game for the Bolts, but it’s as close as they can get. A win pulls them within one game of the Broncos and improves their AFC West record to 4-1. A loss drops them three games behind, and with Denver holding the tie-breaker, it would actually make it a four game deficit with only six games remaining.
A Look Back At Last Week
The Bolts fell in a shootout to the Buccaneers, 34-24. A common theme this season, the Chargers got off to a hot start scoring 21 points in the first half on three
What to Watch For…
On Offense for the Chargers
Philip Rivers will need to be on his game against the Broncos. Owner of the NFL’s fourth-highest completion percentage (68.0%), Rivers has posted solid numbers at Sports Authority Field over his career. In six starts he’s completed 109 of 165 (66.1%) for 1,577 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions for a 102.5 QB rating. Rivers’ top target this season has been Malcom Floyd, who leads the Chargers with 39 catches and 572 receiving yards on the season and is tied for second with three touchdown catches. Antonio Gates (35 catches for 298 yards), who needs one touchdown catch to equal Lance Alworth’s team record of 81, leads the Bolts with four touchdown catches. Two of his touchdowns came in this year’s earlier meeting with the Broncos.
On Offense for the Broncos
Peyton Manning is the key cog for the Broncos offense.. In the midst of an MVP caliber season, the quarterback has thrown for 2,705 yards and 21 touchdowns with a passer rating of 108.0. He has elevated the level of play for his offense, most notably wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (54 catches for 891 yards and four touchdowns) and Eric Decker (48 catches for 598 yards and seven TDs). The Broncos ground game is headed up by Willis McGahee, the 10th year veteran who has 676 yards (averaging 4.2 yards per carry) and four touchdowns on the season.
On Defense for the Chargers
San Diego’s defense will have to play a key role if the Chargers are to knock off the Broncos on Sunday. The Bolts rank seventh in the NFL in total defense and second against the run, thanks in large part to last year’s first-round draft pick
On Defense for the Broncos
Denver’s defense is loaded with playmakers from top to bottom. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard leads the team with 80 tackles while Von Miller (10) and Elvis Dumervil (7.5) rank first and second in sacks. Dumervil has also forced a team-high five fumbles while Woodyard, Tony Carter and Chris Harris lead the way with two interceptions apiece.
The Chargers have won three straight and five of their last six games in Denver. Overall in the series, the Bolts have won four of the last six, five of the last nine and nine of the last 13. Denver, however, leads the all-time series, 56-48-1 and defeated San Diego the last time these teams met, 35-24.
By the Numbers
For the year, the Chargers rank 22nd in total offense (334.6 yards per game),16th in passing (229.0 ypg), 18th in rushing (105.6 ypg) and 17th in points (23.2). The Broncos rank third in total offense (395.1 ypg), third in passing (292.9 ypg), 22nd in rushing (102.2 ypg) and second in points (30.1)
Defensively, the Bolts rank seventh in total defense (317.0 ypg), 17th in passing (234.1 ypg), second in rushing (82.9 ypg) and 11th in points allowed (21.1). Denver ranks sixth in total defense (316.8 ypg), 11th in passing (218.4 ypg), 10th in rushing (98.3 ypg) and 10th in points allowed (21.0).
Milestones on the Horizon
Mathews has 14 career rushing touchdowns and is just three scores shy of moving into the Top 10. Currently the Top 10 is rounded out by Hank Bauer (1977-82), Rod Bernstine (1987-92), Dick Post (1967-70) and Clarence Williams (1977-81), who each scored 17 rushing touchdowns during their Chargers’ careers.
Antonio Gates caught his 80th career touchdown pass on Sunday in Tampa Bay, leaving him one shy of tying Lance Alworth’s team record of 81.
Gates now has 621 career catches and needs 42 more to pass Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome (662) for the fourth-most catches by a tight end in NFL history.
Gates (8,121 career yards) currently ranks fourth all-time in receiving yards by a tight end.
Philip Rivers has thrown for 2,203 yards through the season’s first nine games (244.8 yards per game) and is on pace for a 3,917 yard season, which would make him the first Chargers quarterback ever with five-straight seasons of 3,500-or-more passing yards.
Takeo Spikes’ next tackle will be the 1,700th of his career.
Quentin Jammer (20) is tied with Chuck Allen (1961-68) for 10th on the team’s all-time interceptions list. With one more, Jammer will tie Woodrow Lowe (1976-86), Bob Howard (1967-74) and Leslie “Speedy” Duncan (1964-69) for seventh.
Malcom Floyd (3,699 receiving yards) needs 256 to crack the team’s career Top 10 list.
Antoine Cason (245 int. return yards) needs 64 to crack the team’s career Top 10 list.
The Chargers need four regular-season victories to reach 400 all-time. The Chargers’ all-time regular-season record is 396-388-11.
A.J. Smith is the winningest general manager in franchise history with 95 wins. He needs five wins to see the team reach 100 wins under his watch. Additionally, the Chargers’ next division title will be Smith’s sixth as general manager, most in team history, and the Chargers’ next playoff win will be Smith’s fourth as general manager, also most in team history.
Norv Turner (115) ranks 32nd in NFL history for career wins. Turner needs two wins to tie Dennis Green (117) for 31st, three to tie George Allen (118) for 30th and eight to tie another former Chargers coach, Sid Gillman (123), for 29th.
Photos: Familiar Faces
Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano and linebackers coach Joe Barry are both Boulder, Colo. natives. They were teammates at Boulder’s Fairview High School where Pagano’s father, Sam, was the school’s head coach.
Senior offensive assistant/special assignment coach Steve Fairchild is a former quarterback, head coach and assistant coach at Colorado State.
Assistant strength and conditioning coach Vernon Stephens served as assistant speed and strength/conditioning coach at the University of Colorado from 2003-06.
Broncos’ Head Coach John Fox served as the Chargers’ secondary coach from 1992- 93. Fox also was a graduate assistant at San Diego State. He attended both Southwestern CC and San Diego State, and is originally from Chula Vista.
Tight ends coach Clancy Barone held the same position with the Chargers from 2007-08.
Wide receiver Andre Caldwell is the younger brother of former Chargers wide receiver Reche Caldwell.
NFL Network (simulcast on KFMB, Channel 8 in San Diego) – Kevin Harlin (play-by-play), Solomon Wilcots (analyst)
Rock 105.3 FM, XTRA Sports 1360 (San Diego) and AM 570 KLAC (Los Angeles & Orange County) – Josh Lewin (play-by-play), Hank Bauer (analyst)
Spanish Radio –XHFG 107.3 (San Diego) and KWKW 1330 AM (Los Angeles) – Jorge Villanueva (play-by-play) and Dante Lazcano (analyst)